Afghanistan is withdrawing its diplomats from Pakistan following the alleged abduction of the ambassador’s daughter in the capital Islamabad, according to the Afghan foreign ministry.
Silsila Alikhil, the daughter of Najib Alikhil, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, was “abducted for several hours and severely tortured by unknown individuals on her way home” on Friday, according to a statement from the ministry.
She was later released and is now receiving medical care in the hospital, the statement said, adding that the investigation into the incident is still ongoing.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry had appeared to confirm the incident in a statement on Saturday, saying that Silsila had been “assaulted while riding a rented vehicle” and that it was trying to apprehend suspects.
But in an about-turn on Sunday night, Pakistan’s interior minister denied the incident and expressed skepticism toward Silsila’s account of what happened.
Earlier on Sunday, Afghanistan had announced it would withdraw Alikhil and all other senior diplomats based in Pakistan “until all threats are addressed,” according to the foreign ministry statement.
The ministry also summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, to “convey the strong protest and deep concerns of the Government of Afghanistan to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Pakistan about this grave incident.”
In the statement, Afghanistan called on the Pakistan government to “take immediate action” to identify and punish the perpetrators, and to protect the safety of Afghan diplomats “in accordance with international conventions.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry called the withdrawal of diplomats unfortunate and regrettable in a news release on Sunday, adding that it hoped Afghanistan would reconsider its decision.
The ministry added that the abduction and assault “is being investigated and followed-up at the highest level on the instructions of the Prime Minister,” and that security had been “beefed up” for the ambassador, his family, and other Afghan embassy personnel. On Sunday, Pakistan’s foreign secretary met with Alikhil to reassure him of Pakistan’s “full cooperation” on the matter, the statement added.
However, by the end of Sunday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid told a local news channel in Afghanistan that it was “not an abduction at all,” but rather “an international conspiracy” fueled by Indian intelligence, without providing more details on the allegation.
He also stated at a press conference that an initial investigation had found discrepancies in the statement Silsila gave.
The alleged incident comes as Pakistan prepares to host an Afghan peace conference next week, amid concerns over the aftermath of the withdrawal of the United States military from Afghanistan.
The peace conference had originally been scheduled for this weekend, between Saturday and Monday, but has been delayed until after Eid Al-Adha, said Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Friday. The new dates have not yet been announced, but the Islamic holiday ends on July 23.
About three dozen attendees are expected to arrive in Islamabad for the conference, including heads of Afghan political parties. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is also expected to attend the conference.
“As the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is nearing completion, we remain concerned at the evolving security situation in Afghanistan,” said a spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign ministry in a statement on Thursday, adding that Pakistan “remains committed” to helping facilitate the Afghan peace process.
CNN’s Jessie Yeung and journalist Zahid Gishkori contributed to this report.